Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
March 21st, 2009

U2′s Class Act

An early morning epiphany while the world's biggest band played at my Catholic college

 
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u2-inside

I clutched the barricade in front of me with all my strength, afraid to lose my prime spot as the crowd pushed from behind. Feet numb from standing for hours on frozen ground, I approached my fourth hour outside, armed with nothing more than a digital camera and granola bars. At 8:00 a.m. on the dot, it finally happened. U2 coolly strolled down the steps of Keating Hall — the same steps I have walked on the way to class so many times — took their place on stage, and launched into the first few chords of their new, psychedelic rock single, “Get on Your Boots.”

A week of rumors was finally put to rest as Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. performed at Fordham, as part of a special taping of Good Morning America . Capping off a week of New York appearances promoting their latest album, No Line on the Horizon, Friday morning’s concert succeeded in waking up college students earlier than most get up all year. With morning classes canceled, over 4,000 students and faculty members crowded around the stage for the free show (a Fordham ID was required for entry). Seemingly in a matter of minutes, Eddie’s Parade — a typically quiet quad —transformed into a venue for one of the biggest bands in the world.

“I joined a rock and roll band to get out of college,” Bono said, smiling over the crowd after performing the latest single. “Maybe if it looked like this and felt like this, things could have been different.” The crowd roared with approval, and the band transitioned into “Magnificent,” another standout track on the new album. Bono, being his charismatic self, ran, leaped and jumped across stage, reaching out to the crowd.

Sorry, Father

One of the highlights of the short set of new music was “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” off Horizon.

“This song was written about Friday nights on Fordham University’s campus,” Bono joked, before smiling and adding, “With all due respect, Father,” to university president, Father McShane. The crowd responded particularly well to the song, which speaks of letting loose and the necessity of nonsense. “The right to be ridiculous is something I hold dear,” Bono sang out, amidst a sea of digital cameras.

After a brief interview with Robin Roberts of Good Morning America , the band came back onstage for an energy-packed performance of “Beautiful Day” off All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000), inspiring the crowd to jump up and down and scream along with the lyrics. U2 followed that stellar number with “Breathe” off the new album. The memorable show ended with a wild performance of “Vertigo” off How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004) . The crowd shouted “Uno, dos, tres, catorce!” as Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry amped up the energy one last time for the final number. The crowd chanted “one more song” as Bono and company made their way back into Keating Hall, leaving the campus buzzing with adrenaline.

*****

Still Searching

Throughout U2′s career, faith struggle has been a recurring theme in their music. Bono, a child of mixed Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, has explored his spiritual self through U2′s life in the spotlight.

A friend of mine once called his first U2 concert “a spiritual experience.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, but his comment came back to me last Friday after the concert had ended. The presence of U2 at Fordham — one of the biggest bands in the world at my relatively small Jesuit liberal arts school got me thinking about faith. Perhaps one of the reasons why the concert was such an incredible moment for my Catholic university was the students’ strong ability to relate to the search for spiritual meaning. My college world couldn’t be further from that of a rock star’s, but during that six song set, our own concerns, anxieties and ideas about love and faith intersected, if only briefly, with those of the band.

Throughout U2′s career, faith struggle has been a recurring theme in their music. Bono, a child of mixed Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, has explored his spiritual self through U2′s life in the spotlight. In his music, he frequently cites scripture and recounts personal periods of hope and despair, faith and doubt, temptation and grace — all characteristic of a Christian worldview. The spiritual messages behind the band’s lyrics are so prevalent that some places of worship have used the band’s music in services called U2charists, in an attempt to reach out to a younger crowd. From Boy, the band’s first album, to the newly released No Line on the Horizon, issues of faith continue to manifest themselves in U2′s music.

No Line on the Horizon may be one of their most spiritual albums to date. The band’s 12th studio album, Horizon was five years in the making, the longest gap U2 has ever had without a CD release. With a considerable amount of time put into the album, U2 aimed for reinvention. Bono told long-time collaborators Brian Eno and Daniel Lanoios that he wanted an album of “futuristic spirituals,” and the largely experimental Horizon was the result. The band wrote and recorded the album all over — spending time in Dublin, New York, London, and Fez, Morocco. Lyrically rich, Horizon is new and fresh while still remaining classically U2, complete with a spiritual restlessness, concern for social justice, and more than a hint of nonsense.

Magnificent

The themes in U2′s music transcend age, as they continue to explore love and its meaning, relationship with the divine, sin and forgiveness — with their signature humor and hint of irreverence.

So how is it possible that a group who put out their first album years before most of my classmates were born still carries relevance for young people? The themes in U2′s music transcend age, as they continue to explore love and its meaning, relationship with the divine, sin and forgiveness — with their signature humor and hint of irreverence. Their songs contain a depth that allows for reflection and interpretation.

The band’s spiritual side was evident during their performance of “Magnificent” that morning. A long, instrumental lead-in built up to the release of Bono’s booming voice, “I was born/I was born to sing for you/I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up.” As Bono closed his eyes and reached up to the sky, audience members witnessed what seemed like his personal conversation with God — Bono’s acknowledgment of God’s gift of music. Later, he highlighted the strength of divine love, “Only love/Only love would leave such a mark/Only love/only love can heal such a scar.”

Photos by Jennifer Sawyer
(Click the thumbnails to see full-size images.)

 
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The Author : Jennifer Sawyer
Jennifer Sawyer is a twenty-something living in New York City. She is a graduate of Fordham University, where she studied journalism, sociology, and Catholic studies. She currently works in television production and serves on the young adult leadership team at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in New York City.
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  • Hank McDonald

    Great piece Jennifer. I caught the U2 bug while I was in college 25+ yeas ago – the timeless themes in U2′s music are as relevant today as ever.

  • Donna Cornachio

    Another lovely piece, Jen. Keep writing, keep rocking and keep searching!

  • Sue Finn

    Jennifer, I am so proud that you are my niece!! Your article captured the essence of U2′s spiritual messages spoken through their music. You will have a career in writing, and it will be awesome! love and admiration, aunt Sue

  • Lynn Geyer

    Jennifer. The fact that you’re still a student could never be known by this cohesive article about experiencing U2 at Fordham. Every word has relevence. Thanks for sharing your well ordered thoughts and allowing us to almost “feel like we were there”. I expect you’ll be a world class TV journalist before too long! >

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